How Succession Explores the Emotional Fallout of Toxic Family Dynamics

Shannon Pendleton

*Spoilers ahead for seasons 2, 3, and 4 of Succession*

The final season of HBO’s Succession was released this month, continuing the journey of the Roy children in their ongoing power struggle to be named successor of their father’s multi-billion-dollar company, Waystar Royco.

Throughout the show’s four-season run, it is made clear that Logan Roy was an abusive father to his four children, both physically and emotionally.

Within the system of abuse in which Shiv, Kendall, Roman, and Connor were raised, their relationship with words and how to use them is deeply affected.

Each child wrestles with sincerity as it is made clear that any genuine expression of emotion or feeling exposes them as vulnerable – and in a family that is more business than family, vulnerability is a weakness to be exploited for monetary gain and power.

In season 2 – amongst a legal battle concerning a slew of sexual harassment accusations made against Waystar for which someone at the company will be taking the fall – the youngest son, Roman, attempts to break the mould.

Stuttering and hesitating, Roman asks Shiv and Kendall, ‘If we come through this, is there a thing where we, like, talk to each other about stuff… normally?’.

The two siblings then proceed to repeat Roman’s question in high-pitched voices, mocking his attempt at reaching out. Kendall even says, as he giggles and sneers, ‘You mean talk about feelings?’.

Roman drops his point immediately, having had his moment of vulnerability ridiculed by those closest to him.

It is clear who Kendall and Shiv have learned this from, as, in season 3, we are shown how Logan ridicules his own children.

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When Roman is interviewed by ATN Business and asked to recall a fond memory of his dad, Roman conjures an image of a fly-fishing trip Logan took him on as a child (however, it is later revealed that it was actually Connor who took Roman on this trip).

Having seen Roman’s interview, Logan uses a childish voice to mimic his son, saying ‘Aww, I love my daddy’, before breaking character to say, ‘I never figured you for a f*ggot’. Logan ends the onslaught by clarifying, ‘I’m only joking’.

The Roys use the social parameters of humour and light-heartedness to not only emotionally abuse one another, but to also protect themselves from backlash.

If Roman were to call out Logan’s cruel words for what they are, it is fair to predict that his father would further ridicule Roman for not being able to take a joke or for being too sensitive.

In season 3, Shiv does a similar thing to her husband, Tom.

When Tom suggests spicing up their sex life by incorporating roleplay, asking Shiv to take the lead, she proceeds to say to him, ‘You’re not good enough for me, I’m way out of your f*cking league. That’s why you want me, that’s why you love me… even though I don’t love you’.

At first Tom plays along with her words, but as Shiv goes on and on and the tone begins to shift from playful to spiteful, it becomes clear to Tom that she is using the guise of roleplay to, for once, speak candidly.

The next day, Tom confronts Shiv, however, she brushes off his concerns, laughing as she says, ‘What happens in sex Vegas…’, before calling his emotional response ‘manipulative’. Tom then drops the issue.

In the newest season, the culmination of insincerity and gaslighting comes to a head. Dealing with the fallout of season 3’s finale, where Logan decided to sell Waystar instead of name one of his children successor, Logan provides a half-hearted apology: ‘I don’t do apologies, but if it means so much to you, then, sorry’.

When Kendall presses further – ‘What are you sorry for? Sorry for f*cking ignoring Connor his whole life? […] For hitting Rome when he was a kid?’ – the siblings one by one downplay the crimes of childhood neglect and abuse committed against them, with Connor describing Kendall’s indictment against Logan as a ‘bit strong’ while Roman stumbles over his words as he says, ‘Oh, no, I mean, everyone hit me, I’m f*cking annoying’.

Then comes the most recent episode, ‘Connor’s Wedding’, released on the 9th April. Here, all the bottled-up emotion between the children, suppressed for their entire lives, finally comes out.

Logan Roy, the ruthless father and businessman, who described himself as ‘100 feet tall’ just two episodes before, is dead.

It’s the day of Connor’s wedding and instead of attending, Logan is on a private jet with his colleagues, strategising and planning his next business move.

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And so, instead of dying with family, he dies as he lived, surrounded by colleagues and associates.

While his body is still warm and a doctor hasn’t even declared him dead yet, his team draft an announcement to release to the press.

On a day that should be reserved for family and grieving and emotion, is instead shrouded in optics, market price, and press releases. As Kendall reminds his siblings, ‘we are highly liable to misinterpretation, so what we do today will always be what we did the day our father died. So, let’s grieve and whatever, but not do anything that restricts our future freedom of movement’.

Poignantly, when Kendall informs Shiv of what’s going on – Logan is on a jet and receiving chest compressions – all he has to say is ‘Shivvy, honey’, an unusually affectionate address between the siblings, for her to immediately assume someone is dead or dying.

And so, after years of mocking and ridicule, after decades of desperately removing themselves from emotion and vulnerability to be as strong and ruthless as their Dad, all the walls come tumbling down – and what comes gushing out is a panicked goodbye over the phone while Logan is being given last-resort medical care by cabin crew.

In a masterfully produced 27-minute-long take, the children say their goodbyes, not knowing if Logan can even hear them.

They say he did a good job as a dad, they say they love him, but notably, Kendall says he ‘can’t forgive’ him but that ‘it’s okay’; a sentiment echoed by Shiv, sobbing as she says, ‘there’s no excuses […] but […] it’s okay, Daddy’.

The children pour their hearts out in a unique display of sincerity – that is simply too late.

In line with Logan’s neglect of his eldest son, Connor isn’t given the chance to say goodbye – perhaps on his wedding day, he slipped the minds of his siblings.

When informed that Logan has passed, he responds, ‘He never even liked me, […] I never got the chance to make him proud of me’.

Moving forward, this sentiment may ring true for all of Logan’s children, as, even in death, Logan will continue to have a suffocating presence in their lives as his absence highlights to them all the ways they failed to make him proud. All the love and the affection and the pats on the back they were one day hoping to earn, and now, never will.

With Logan’s last words to the four having been said in the previous episode – ‘I love you, but you are not serious people’ – Shiv, Kendall, Roman, and Connor may dedicate the rest of their lives to trying to achieve the title of ‘serious people’; a feat they will be unable to attain now that Logan has passed.

With no children having been named successor, the only and tragic legacy they will receive from their father is one of abuse and neglect.

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